All the energy devoted to this issue of the Ground Zero Mosque is distracting us from the far more serious problem of Iran's nuclear weapons program. If this more fundamental problem is properly addressed, then the NYC mosque issue will become irrelevant. Conversely, if America doesn't deal with this more fundamental problem, then any legal or political maneuvers to stop the NYC mosque -- even if successful -- will make little difference in the long run.
Opponents of the mosque argue that allowing its construction near the ruins of the World Trade Center would symbolize America's weakness and would embolden anti-American, anti-Western Islamists around the world. While true, the reason why America is perceived as weak against the Islamists is because we are. And nothing illustrates this more than our current policy (or lack thereof) toward Iran's nuclear program.
According to Jeffrey Goldberg's article "The Point of No Return" in the September 2010 issue of The Atlantic, neither America's friends nor her enemies generally believe America would ever use decisive military force against Iran. Any tough talk coming from Washington is perceived as just a bluff. Hence, small Arab nations (such as the UAE) have stated that if the U.S. is unwilling to stop Iran's nuclear program, then they will have to "leave the American orbit and ally themselves with Iran out of self-protection." Even the French (!) have warned President Obama that he is perceived as too soft on Iran, noting that Obama's policies have resulted in "[n]othing but more enriched uranium and more centrifuges. And ... a statement by Iranian leaders calling for wiping off the map a Member of the United Nations [i.e., Israel]."
Goldberg also warns that American weakness will lead many in Israel's government to believe that if Iran builds nuclear weapons and the U.S. does nothing in response, Israel will have no choice but to take military action against Iran -- as a matter of life or death. Such a strike could "[spark] lethal reprisals, and even a full-blown regional war that could lead to the deaths of thousands of Israelis and Iranians, and possibly Arabs and Americans as well." Based on current estimates of Iran's progress, Israel will likely feel the need to attack by mid-2011.
(Goldberg notes that he is not arguing that Israel should attack Iran, but rather that the perception of American weakness means that Israel will likely decide that it has no other choice.)
Nor is a nuclear-armed Iran a threat only to Israel. Iran's leaders have made no secret of their desire to take down "the Great Satan" itself (i.e., the United States).
If Iranian leaders think they are doing Allah's work, they'll gladly sponsor (or commit) attacks against America that will make 9-11 look like child's play. For instance, they could attempt to smuggle in and simultaneously detonate a nuclear bomb in each of America's ten largest cities -- potentially killing millions of people. Fortunately, due to the hard work of American law enforcement, such nightmare scenarios are still the stuff of Hollywood -- for now. But how long can our current run of good fortune last?
Given this untenable situation, how should the U.S. respond?
Fortunately, Duke University professor John Lewis offers a solution in his article in the Winter 2006-2007 issue of The Objective Standard, "'No Substitute for Victory': The Defeat of Islamic Totalitarianism." In this article, he contrasts the current weak American approach towards Iran with the much stronger approach we adopted in World War II against Germany and Japan.
Lewis observes that "[a] strong offense does not create new enemies; it defeats existing foes. Were this not so, we would be fighting German and Japanese suicide bombers today, while North Korea -- undefeated by America -- would be peaceful, prosperous, and free."
Drawing on past historical experience, Lewis concludes that
1) We have to explicitly identify the enemy as such -- namely, the ideology of Islamic Totalitarianism.
2) We have to commit to victory over that enemy and its primary state sponsor, Iran.
In the 1998 movie The Siege, about Islamic terrorism here in the U.S. (starring Denzel Washington and Bruce Willis), one of the characters stated, "He who is the most committed wins."
Right now, the Islamic Totalitarians are more committed to victory than we are. Even worse, we know it -- and they know it. As Lewis puts it, "Our military capacities are not in doubt today. It is our moral self-confidence that is in question."
The current furious debate about the NYC mosque is just a reflection of that much deeper problem -- namely our unwillingness to fight for our values against those who have proven with words and deeds their desire to kill us.
If we follow Professor Lewis' advice and truly commit to "nothing less than victory" against the Islamic Totalitarianism and its chief state sponsor, Iran, then the problem of NYC mosque will evaporate. In contrast, if we do nothing about the Iranian nuclear threat, then our current political hand-wringing over the NYC mosque will merely make us look like an impotent paper tiger.
As Lewis notes:
History is clear: All-out force against fanatical killers is both practical and moral. It led us to our two most important foreign policy successes -- the defeats of Germany and Japan in 1945 -- and to the permanent peace with those nations that we take for granted today. Such a course was practical and moral then, and it is practical and moral now -- an affirmation, and a defense, of life and civilization.
Will we remember this lesson -- and survive? Or will America ignore it -- and become in turn a history lesson for future generations? The choice is ours.
Paul Hsieh is a physician in practice in the south Denver metro area.